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english labor race

Making connections with the audience: professionalism and alienation

Yongho Kim
Labor’s Story through Music
May 10, 2004. (due May 7th – three days late )

Making connections with the audience: professionalism and alienation

In reflecting on the production of “Forgotten”, I want to focus on the difference between the performance at the Union Hall and the one at Macalester in the level of connections it allowed student performers to make with the audience during the show itself.

The Union Hall was not meant to be used as a performance space – it had a podium dedicated to lectures and some backstage space. Bob arranged it so that the main actors would hide behind the backstage space when they were not performing, but the worker’s chorus had to stay in the back of the hall, visible to the audience. In between scenes, and in the majority of scenes where the worker’s chorus was not present, we (the worker’s chorus) could stand in the back and listen to peoples’ reactions – laughter, exclamations, suspense, etc.

Having not had the time to stay and chat with audiences, this was a medium through which I could connect with the audience. They laughed when the foreman said “It’s in the corner where no one else ever goes”, they were focused and silent during the introduction of “The Ford Hunger March”. I also had a chance to confirm feelings I had towards situations – a bitter taste for Lewis not listening to his wife, for example – by finding reactions or the lack of them in the audience. In the same vein, not having a proper lightning set helped view the expressions in the faces of the people present there.

On the other hand, Macalester’s concert hall was conceived from the beginning as a performance space. There were doors that closed well (the Union Hall’s backstage was not an enclosed space, but just a wall separating the hall from the back stage) at the stage and a separate entrance hallway outside of the concert hall, which was where the students waited. Behind the thick walls, we could only follow the general melody in order to know when to enter. The intense spotlight also prevented us from seeing the audience.

This contributed to separating the student performers from the performance experience. Although a stretch, I parallel this to a general pattern where technical professionalism matches an increased distance between artist and audience as in Rose’s account of western music isolating the musician through sheet music. As Pete Seeger’s effort to incorporate the audience in the singing was a way to break through his contradictions between the message portrayed and his own life (Filene 196), directions to the opposite pole seem to alienate the performers.

As a side note, I would like to point out that our Thursday concert was the second time I had listened to the lyrics for the whole show attentively and could figure out what the whole story was about.

As a result, in the brief moments that I exchanged brief commentaries with audiences after the show, I felt there were more shared emotional links in the Union Hall, not because it was a working class space, but because it was less professional and allowed for informal human expressions such as laughter to transmit both sides.

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